Lebanon will not waltz with Bashir

Whether Waltz With Bashir wins the Oscar for Foreign Film or not, audiences in Lebanon—the subject of the film—will not get to see it on the big screen. Like all Israeli products, Ari Folman's film is banned in Lebanon. Except, that is, for a few lucky people in Beirut last Saturday.
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Ari Folman and the movie that will not be seen on the big screen in Lebanon.

BEIRUT, January 27, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Although it is known that Israeli goods are banned in Lebanon, the country's Information Minister, Tarek Mitri, reiterated last week that Waltz With Bashir would not be shown in Lebanese theatres.

"According to existing law it is illegal to import the film or to project it," Mitri said.

The movie, which won a Golden Globe this year for Best Foreign Film and was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, is about an Israeli soldier haunted by his memories of participating in the massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese in the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila. He tries to investigate a past he doesn't recall.

The massacres were perpetrated by the Lebanese Forces militia led by Elie Hobeika in 1982, after the assassination of late President and Lebanese Forces leader Bashir Gemayel.

Even if Folman to an extant investigates the Israeli role in the massacres, which took place while Lebanon was under Israeli occupation, this was not enough for the Lebanese authorities to grant an exception to the boycott of all Israeli products.

Mitri, who says he opposes censorship, admitted to Agence France-Presse that "the ban is absurd because you can download it on YouTube."

"We need to abolish that law so that we can see films like this and any other films and then, if you abolish the censorship law we have, then whoever is harmed can take the matter to court," Mitri said.

A very selective screening

But one Lebanese cultural organization decided it wasn't going to wait for the law to be changed.

On Saturday night, UMAM, an association concerned with the preservation of memory in Lebanon, invited a number of friends to watch the movie in its headquarters in Haret Hreik, in the Hezbllah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut.

Lokman Slim and Monica Burgmann, who run UMAM, invited 30 friends to watch the film but ended up having an audience of 90 people.

MENASSAT spoke with Burgmann.

MENASSAT: Why did you decide to screen Waltz With Bashir despite the ban?

"UMAM is concerned with documenting the collective memory of Lebanon. That's why we chose a movie that speaks of a painful period of Lebanese modern history. I invited 30 people to watch the movie, without any previously planned discussion.
"The subject interests a lot of Lebanese because it sheds light on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But I was still shocked to see 90 people show up. The screening was not meant to be open to the public; it was only supposed to be for a number of intellectuals and media persons, who were given private invitations."

MENASSAT: How did people react to the movie?

"When the movie was over there was total silence. There was not even a discussion. But I noticed that the film touched many people. Some even had tears in their eyes. One person told me, 'I envy this Israeli filmmaker because he was able to document a history us Lebanese, should have documented.'

MENASSAT:  What about the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Information to ban the movie?

"You should ask them. I personally think that the ban is a great loss for the Lebanese people. It doesn't make sense, especially since a lot of Israeli books are translated and sold in Lebanese libraries.

"The film should be seen as a lesson, and it could teach us a lot. So the real loser is the Lebanese people who are deprived of their memory. Looking at the other's point of view doesn't mean adopting it. On the contrary, it gives people an idea of the other's way of thinking and of transmitting events."

MENASSAT: In the era of the Internet and hacking, don't you think it is impossible to ban anything?

"Sure. The movie will come out on DVD in the US in the next few months. With hacking, I think that everyone will watch it. So what's the point? Wouldn't it be better if the film was screened officially, and the government would then have contributed to documenting the Lebanese history?

MENASSAT:  Do you really think that the ban is because of the boycott of Israeli goods? Or are there other reasons, such as preventing sectarian clashes?

"I think the Lebanese civil war is taboo. I also think that there is not enough effort to document the Lebanese history. They use sectarian clashes as an excuse... Can't they see that looking into our past can really prevent us from making the same mistakes twice?"